Monday, March 16, 2009


JoeIt's exam week again here at old Uppsala U. Not so much for me, actually; my semester is a little strange, with two classes that have no exams and another two that last all semester instead of just one half, which leaves just two normal classes. Of the latter category, the class that ended last week also happened to have it's exam on last Wednesday, before classes for the period actually ended. Long story short, while I've still got plenty to do for the period, my exams are, thankfully, over for now.

For all that, I suspect that my sole exam this period was not my finest examinatory hour. I feel confident that I stand a decent chance of passing it, but I doubt I will pass with much distinction. Not that that seems to matter so much here. I think I've mentioned before the grading for exams (and classes) here, which runs: U, 3, 4, 5. I may not have mentioned what, exactly, the grades stand for, namely: failed, passed, passed with distinction, and finally passed with lots of distinction (translations may be somewhat approximate). Now, I naturally tend to think of these grades as being equivalent, respectively, to F, C, B, and A, and roughly speaking I think that's true, but the "Average" and somewhat disapproving nature of a C doesn't seem to quite mesh with the "Passed" quality of a 3. To illustrate, allow me to relate two anecdotes, both of which occurred in the week leading up to my exam:

Firstly, one afternoon a Swedish classmate and I were discussing the various classes we had taken at the same time over the last couple of periods, and as tends to happen in such conversations, we began commiserating about one class which had ended with a particularly challenging exam.

Now, I'm pretty pleased with my result on the exam in question, which perhaps colored my expectations as my classmate said, "I'm very proud of how I did on that exam. It took a 50 (out of 100) to pass, and I got a 51!" I must confess, I wasn't quite sure how to take this at first, but as the conversation progressed I could tell that he was quite serious. He had done almost exactly the minimum required to pass the exam, and he took this as an indication that he had learned exactly the right amount from the class.

The second anecdote is Jennifer's, and happened within a day or so of mine. She was having fika with her lab students one afternoon, and they were discussing their most recent exam period when it came up that one of her students was rather cross about the exam in one of his classes. Had it been too difficult, perhaps? No, it turned out the problem was that the poor fellow had gotten 38 points (out of 50 possible), when only 30 were needed to pass. "It means I spent more hours studying for the exam than I needed to, and I'll never get those back," he mused.

Swedes have a word for this, which doesn't have an exact analogue in English. They call it lagom, which roughly means "sufficient," but with an implication that sufficient is, in fact, just right. You don't want any less, but more would be a waste.

So, how'd I do on my exam last week? No guarantees, but I'm shooting for lagom.

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